As with much of modern life, we have managed to surround what should be the joyful act of eating with anxiety and confusion. For those of us who are trying to eat responsibly, in terms of the impact our choices make on the economy, politics and the planet, and at the same time choose foods that are nutritionally sound and chemical free, the options are overwhelming. Local, regional, organic, natural, grass-fed, cage free, or sustainably grown, which is best? Which takes precedence, local or organic, for instance? You can drive yourself crazy thinking about these things.
I want to eat the freshest food I can and foods that are true to their source. By that I mean I’d rather eat a blueberry than ‘blueberry’ flavored fruit roll ups. So for me, fresh means as local as I can get it.
|Buttercup squash from last year's garden.|
The first and best option is my own garden. For four months of the year I don’t need to buy many fresh vegetables and if the season is good, I can preserve the extras for the winter months. I also enjoy swapping produce with my gardening friends, who often grow varieties that I do not.
|Shartner Farms in Exeter, RI, has a great produce stand.|
We are luck in Rhode Island to have access to many local farms. Farmers markets, CSAs and road side stands are readily available in the summer and we are starting to see winter markets appearing as well. Finding fresh and local for much of the year is not a problem. When you meet the farmers, often at their farms, you make a connection with the food you eat and get a sense of the philosophy the farmers follow. It connects us to the soil.
|Shartner Farms Produce Stand|
By eating what is fresh, we are eating what is in season, which means that every few months the options change and the menu changes, too. This is my favorite part of living in New England. Just as you get to the point where you can’t look at another zucchini, the season moves on and winter squash appears. We have favorite dishes that I only make during the season the main ingredients are fresh. I look forward to making them every year. It makes them special and helps to build family traditions.
|Rosa Rugosa grows wild on RI beaches. The flowers and hips are edible.|
Eating locally also means supporting the local food economy by purchasing dairy and meat products produced close to home. This one is harder on the budget and I do it when I can. I always purchase local eggs.
Local food is a part of a region’s identity. The US is often criticized for not having an identifiable national cuisine but I believe if we support our local food producers, regional cooking will continue to emerge. In Europe, there is legislation to copyright the names of regional foods to preserve their uniqueness. For example, cheddar cheese originated in Cheddar, Somerset, not far from where I grew up. Now ‘cheddar’ cheese is made all over the world. The cheese makers in Cheddar argue that these other producers are not making cheddar cheese. The milk does not come from the cows that eat the grass in the Cheddar region, which gives the cheese its unique flavor, as does the local water. In Italy, the growers of San Marzano tomatoes are arguing that only tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil of their region can be true San Marzano tomatoes.
|A fabulous garden plot at Roger Williams Park Community Garden in Providence, RI.|
I see gardening friends and local farmers and food producers as being my community partners. We are working together to create a food culture that feeds all of us. Local and state governments also partner with me to recycle my waste and fund projects I support such as open spaces and community gardens. By spending my money locally I help to sustain the kind of community I want to live in and I do this all by wanting to eat the freshest food I can. I see nothing stressful about that.
How about you, what are your priorities when you shop for food?
See you in the garden,